Irish Playwright Bryan Delaney’s Western New York premiere, The Seedbed, suggests imagery that reflects growth – whether it’s fragrant flowers cultivated by Mick, a florist from Amsterdam, or – malignant familial thoughts and desires amidst a troubled triangle – father, mother and daughter in “a house in Ireland,” actually any home in any land.
This compelling drama might equally be called The Elephant in the Room, which seems appropriate now that U.S. politics appears illogical to the rest of the world. The elephant might be Thomas, the steadfast father, portrayed powerfully by Chris Kelly, who cultivates a slow burn with volcanic explosions throughout the play. Or it might be his wife, Hannah, played stoically and convincingly by Kristen Trip Kelley, her red hair burning as brightly as her mounting fear and anxiety, which sparks trouble for all. Or it might be the 18-year-old daughter Maggie, her raw sexual allure and angry acting out captured wonderfully by Arianne Davidow. Finally, it might be young Maggie’s bizarre choice for a mate, middle-aged Mick, the florist, handled adeptly by Eric Rawski whose penchant for honesty causes the family irreparable damage. That’s four elephants if you are counting, in fact a veritable herd.
Buffalo’s Irish Classical Theatre Company is a Western New York gem whose Artistic Director, Vincent O’Neil and Producing Director, Fortunato Pezzimenti regularly stage potent, relevant and well-acted plays in their Andrews Theatre, located directly across Main Street from Shea’s Performing Arts Center in the heart of Buffalo’s Theatre District.
This marks the fourth production of the Season, and Bryan Delaney is already known to Buffalo audiences for his successful play The Cobbler, given its World Premiere by the Irish Classical Theatre Company.
The action begins to broil with the wayward daughter suddenly returning home from Amsterdam to reveal her fiancé, middle-aged Mick, his initial appearance drawing an immediate chuckle from the audience, knowing things will surely get complicated with this incongruous pairing. Coincidentally, Thomas and Hannah uneasily celebrate their 17th wedding anniversary. Their union uneasy with her multiple miscarriages and he, the stepfather, taking on a close relationship with the feral daughter.
The set is spectacularly sparse, and Hannah’s opening anniversary gift to Thomas, two caged sparrows, primes one for the secluded set at the end, a dingy shed filled with a mattress and sexual innuendo suggesting lurid behaviour, and three large bird cages, only one of the four of them, it seems, able to escape from the domestic coop.
On YouTube, prior to the play, I watched Bryan Delaney quote Nigerian poet and novelist Ben Okri – “A people are as healthy and confident as the stories they tell themselves…Sick storytellers can make nations sick – Stories can conquer fear. They can make the heart larger.” He also quotes Hamlet – “There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.”
This effectively sums up both the play and contemporary America. The Irish family feud is a bitter struggle between fake news and truth, polarizing the players into absolutist factions unable and unwilling to unite. How prescient of O’Neil and Pezzimenti to stage Delaney’s dark drama now.
Delaney says about the play, “It’s a battleground that takes place over about four days.” He suggests that on the surface, it’s a battle of wills, but deeper down (in the familial seedbed), it’s about how a nasty thought takes root in one’s mind to manifest as a strange mutation, spreading like cancer from one damaged person to the next.
Honest, reliable, down-to-earth, Mick, the affable florist, able to methodically and encyclopedically rhyme off multiple floral names to scold, arouse, amuse and even tease Maggie as they imbibe wine on a couch, acts as our seeing-eye dog, sniffing out the truth from the other three.
The factual explanation of his chance meeting with Maggie and their “midnight swim” in one of Amsterdam’s many canals, sets off bells and whistles in Thomas’s 911 fire station brain and leads to the scorching denouement at the end. Familial body language says it all – Hannah’s abject frozenness, Thomas’s gradually accepting arms and Maggie’s conniving, coiling fingers. It’s enough to make one run out and catch another play by Tennessee Williams or Edward Albee.